(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Trump speaks about the U.S response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic during an address to the nation from the Oval Office of the White House
By Steve Holland and Peter Szekely
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – As the coronavirus outbreak tore deeper into the fabric of American public life, President Donald Trump was expected to declare a national emergency on Friday to provide more money to fight a pandemic that has killed 41 people in the United States.
The declaration of a national emergency, a rarely used presidential power, would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist state and local governments and coordinate the nation’s response to the crisis. Trump will hold a news briefing at 3 p.m. (1900 GMT).
The move would follow an unprecedented cascade of shutdowns this week, from sports events to museums and workplaces, that is aimed at limiting large public gatherings to help slow the fast-spreading virus.
The Los Angeles United School District, with 750,000 students, was the latest to announce a closure, saying it would close all schools for two weeks beginning Monday to evaluate “an appropriate path forward.”
“This is a difficult decision, but necessary, as we try to slow the spread of the virus,” Superintendent Austin Beutner said in a statement.
San Francisco, San Diego and Washington, D.C., also joined a parade of school closures. A handful of states, including Ohio and Michigan, announced statewide school shutdowns. But New York Mayor Bill de Blasio signaled that he had no immediate plans to shutter the city’s public schools – the nation’s largest system.
“I don’t want to see kids miss weeks or months of school – it’s where a lot of kids get their meals,” de Blasio told FOX5 New York.
Earlier on Friday, Boston rescheduled its annual marathon – the world’s most prestigious – for September because of coronavirus. Most North American professional sports leagues on Thursday announced a suspension of play and the NCAA “March Madness” college basketball tournaments were canceled.
Ryan Starbuck, who was looking forward to running his seventh Boston Marathon next month, said the postponement would upend his usual schedule of two to three marathons a year.
“I think it’s absolutely the right decision to move it,” said Starbuck, 34, of Denver, who easily qualified for the elite race with a time of 2 hours, 40 minutes. “I was expecting them to come to this decision. I just wish it came a little bit sooner,” he said.
With the national emergency expected to be declared by Trump, an aid package to limit the economic damage from the crisis is hanging in the balance.
Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, had previously said they were close to an agreement after negotiating through the night with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s point person on the issue.
But Republicans were waiting for the president to give his approval and had yet to commit. Without their support, the measure could stall in the Senate.
Mnuchin has proposed a variety of tax breaks, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats called for expanding the safety net to help those who may lose work as schools close, sports arenas sit empty and airlines cancel flights.
Across America, shoppers preparing to hunker down at home hit stores in droves to stockpile supplies of food and other essentials like toilet paper, cookies, pasta and paper towels as coronavirus concerns stoked fears of shortages.
At a Trader Joe’s in Manhattan’s Upper West Side neighborhood, the line to get into the store stretched down a city block after shows on Broadway were canceled and big employers like Amazon.com Inc (O:AMZN) encouraged employees to work remotely.
At a Whole Foods store in midtown Manhattan on Friday morning, shoppers streamed in and out.
John Terry, 33, who works in finance, was picking up items his wife could not find near their home in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“I came here to get some of the things she couldn’t,” he said while leaving the store with a single bag of groceries. “It was insanity,” he said about his local grocery stores. “We have a newborn, so it’s tricky.”
PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION HIT
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday reported 1,678 U.S. cases of coronavirus, an increase of 414 from its previous count, and said that the number of deaths had risen by five to 41.
The CDC tally includes 49 cases among people repatriated from Japan and Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began. It has since spread to more than 130 countries and territories, infecting over 138,000 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
Coronavirus took its biggest toll yet on this year’s U.S. presidential election, when Louisiana announced on Friday it had postponed its Democratic and Republican presidential primaries.
The state said it will push the nominating contests back two months from April 4 due to the virus.
In a sliver of good news for the U.S. economy, Wall Street stock indexes rebounded somewhat on Friday after the worst daily sell-off in more than three decades, as investors waited for news of how Washington will tackle the crisis.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) was up more than 3%. But indexes remained about 25% below their record highs of February, and were on track for their biggest weekly declines since the 2008 financial crisis.
A growing concern in the United States is a lack of tests, hampering the ability of health authorities to track the spread and preventing many patients from getting proper diagnoses.
Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had told Congress on Thursday that the U.S. testing system is not meeting the country’s needs.
Fauci said on Friday he expected to see availability of testing increase within a week.
The potential for the virus to spread at testing sites was another worry. To ease that concern, New York state will begin drive-through testing for coronavirus in New Rochelle, a suburb of New York City where authorities have set up a one-mile “containment zone” around an infection hotspot.
“It’s safer to keep them in their car, it’s less exposure overall,” Governor Andrew Cuomo told a news conference on Friday
Coronavirus has hit New York, California and Washington state particularly hard, but all but a few states have announced cases of the respiratory illness.
(Graphic: Tracking the spread of the novel coronavirus – https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html)